Three ESG questions to author (and Preventable Surprises Senior Advisor) Margaret Heffernan who just published a timely book, Uncharted, on dealing with uncertainty.
(1) In your prior book, Wilful Blindness, you invited readers to think about why we ignore the obvious. In your new book, Uncharted, you look at how we deal with uncertainty. You invite readers to engage with the challenges and become better at tackling them. But what makes people want to change their behaviour? what makes a good “Aha!” moment?
I think we are living through an Aha! moment right now: recognising that much in life is NOT predictable and that therefore planning, scientific management, and all the bogus tools of prediction don’t work. This used to be a big leap for people to make. Today, thanks to the epidemic, people experience the unpredictability of life viscerally. Nature has made my case for me. However smart we think we are, however great the tech, the unexpected will always occur. That uncertainty is the one thing we can be certain of.
(2) You are often asked to speak to senior financial sector executives. If a CEO of a large fund manager asked you what they could do about the climate crisis, what would you say (aside from “read my books”)?
Act now. Don’t wait for the perfect plan. By the time there is one, it will be too late to deploy. CEOs these days are referred to as leaders. But mostly they are sheep. Shareholders aren’t an adequate alibi. Lead; start today.
(3) Heads of ESG have a dual, sometimes triple, role. All of them need to promote their firm’s sustainability credentials in order to gather assets and keep important clients happy All of them also have an unwritten role – keep at bay stakeholders who expect too much. Some heads are internal change agents but they know they shouldn’t push too much. How do you think Preventable Surprises can best engage these heads of ESG given these conflicting drivers?
First, bring them together to share successful strategies. Let great ideas spread. Next, make ESG coherent and meaningful. Right now Shell gets high marks due to its diversity policies. That tells investors NOTHING about the environment. I don’t know if this murkiness is deliberate or accidental but ESG is a great place to hide. It needs more transparency. Can Preventable Surprises provide that?